The Associated Press announced on June 19, 2020 that it is capitalizing Black “in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense,” said John Daniszewski, the AP’s Vice President of Standards. “The lowercase black is a color, not a person.”
It’s gratifying to recognize that newspapers, magazines, and media organizations using the AP Stylebook are now asked to write Black (with a capital B) alongside Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, Latinx, Native American, and other racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.
I presume that the MLA Stylebook, Chicago Manual, and other guides will follow.
If we agree as others have said that the lowercase black is a color, then logic dictates that the lowercase white is also a color. Shouldn’t White people have a capital W?
The Columbia Journalism Review says that its motivation for capitalizing Black but not white is because “Black is an ethnic designation; white merely describes the skin color of people who can, usually without much difficulty, trace their ethnic origins back to a handful of European countries.”
Thankfully, national organizations don’t agree with the CJR or with the AP (which continues to use a lowercase white).
The American Psychological Association has a long history in this subject. Its stylebook is explicit: “Racial and ethnic groups are designated by proper nouns and are capitalized… use ‘Black’ and ‘White’ instead of ‘black’ and ‘white’ (do not use colors to refer to other human groups; doing so is considered pejorative).”
Earlier this spring, the Center for the Study of Social Policy went a step further and expanded its rationale for capitalizing White:
“To not name ‘White’ as a race is, in fact, an anti-Black act which frames Whiteness as both neutral and the standard… We believe that it is important to call attention to White as a race as a way to understand and give voice to how Whiteness functions in our social and political institutions and our communities. Moreover, the detachment of ‘White’ as a proper noun allows White people to sit out of conversations about race and removes accountability from White people’s and White institutions’ involvement in racism.”
The most popular reason for not capitalizing White is because the capital W is used by white supremacist groups. But, as Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah points out, “If the capitalization of white became standard among anti-racists, the supremacists’ gesture would no longer be a provocative defiance of the norm and would lose all force. Supremacists would have to find another way to ennoble themselves.”
Don’t forget that the U.S. Census capitalizes all racial options including White. That’s what I select every decade.